Tag Archives: hotel

Amberlair – the world’s first crowdsourced & crowdfunded boutique hotel

‘Boutique hotels with a reverse approach: Create an audience first, let our future guests have a say, and then comes the hotel. The Amberlair concept has the guest experience at its heart and we firmly believe it has the potential to revolutionize the way hotels are built, designed and operated.’

‘Our community of backers – who we dearly address as #boholovers, meaning boutique hotel lovers – are involved from day one, both creatively and financially. Even our name was crowdsourced, because a hundred minds work better than one.’

‘And guess what? Our community has also chosen the location of the first Amberlair in Italy. With the help of our community, we are going to develop a historic villa in Puglia, Italy, and to turn it into the perfect boutique hotel.’

The main villa at Amberlair’s Puglia property

Amberlair is the vision of Kristin Lindbergh & Marcus Orbee after several years travelling and researching, and it is fast becoming a reality.

I love travelling, especially to Italy. And I’ve taken a keen interest in the development of crowdfunding as a funding mechanism for entrepreneurs and as an opportunity for investors….as long as they are aware of the inherent risks. So digging into the unique Amberlair concept was too interesting to miss.

Kristin and Marcus have been kind enough to answer some questions about themselves,  Amberlair and Puglia….I hope you’ll find this Q&A session with them interesting:

Q. you have both spent some time touring the world, evaluating the boutique hotels market. Did you always have in mind that this was specifically to research what has become the Amberlair project, or was it a more speculative trip?

A: When we made the life-changing decision seven years ago to travel the world, we could not even imagine that the impact and inspiration would lead us to create Amberlair. On a Saturday morning in 2010, Marcus decided to quit his senior strategic planning role on the implementation of the Airbus A380 to act on a long-overdue passion. He wanted to travel the world. And because Kristin had made travel part of her life for years, lived in different countries and was working in the tourism industry, she was eager to begin a new adventure as well.

So, we packed up and began our travels for over two years and through more than 40 countries on six continents. Traveling to this extent (we became exposed to so many different cultures and lifestyles!) gave us a new perspective, and exploration fueled our creativity.

During our trip, we discovered that the most special and unique experiences were brought on by staying in smaller, independent hotels. The hip hideaways we found gave us a taste of the local culture and people. We learned how these small businesses operated, and it was so refreshing to discover that none of these owners came from a hospitality background; these hotels were driven by passion. We soon realized that we were not the only avid travellers who preferred to get a truly authentic experience through boutique hotels.

We did encounter some difficulty in our quest to find the best boutique hotels around the world. They were hard to find. In some countries, we couldn’t find a single boutique hotel. The big chain hotels and cookie cutter accommodations simply lacked the same personal and authentic touch that we loved about our favorite boutique accommodations. It was at this point that we felt the urge to do something. How could we make boutique hotels more accessible to travelers, while still tapping into the passion and knowledge that made these spots so special?

This period of travel, inspiration and discovery sparked something in us that would ultimately become the motivating factor for launching Amberlair…

Q: how did you settle on Puglia for the first Amberlair property? I think the crowd voted for this special location in the heel of Italy, but what due diligence did you do on the location first and what others were on the shortlist for the crowd to vote on?

A: Amberlair is the world’s first crowdsourced boutique hotel brand that has taken a revolutionary ‘reverse’ approach to the way hotels are built and conceptualized. First, we created our online global community of boutique hotel lovers and brand followers, establishing a relationship with them from day one to create potential lifelong guests before the hotels are even built.

We then worked with our community to crowdsource their ideas, from choosing the name of our company to the location of the first hotel and will continue to do so throughout the process, shaping the hotel’s eventual design and service amenities to create the ideal boutique hotel, designed by its future guests. Our community of supporters are typically global travellers who don’t like ‘cookie cutter’ hotels. Creative and social minds who have great ideas and strong opinions, and who are ready to put their hearts into the project. They overwhelmingly chose Italy as the location of our first hotel. They spoke and we listened, seeking out the perfect location and the perfect property to develop.

To us, Puglia had such an authentic and powerful sense of identity, much like we have seen in Ibiza, Marrakech and Tulum. It has 500 miles of coastline and the best beaches in Italy. It offers simple, yet excellent and high quality Italian food. It’s full of culture and has lots of UNESCO world heritage sites: Trulli of Alberobello, the Baroque city of Lecce, Castel del Monte, etc. It has beautiful white washed hill top towns, like Cisternino, Ostuni and Martina Franca. In 2013, Puglia was listed among the top 10 world destinations for wine tourism in Wine Enthusiast’s annual ranking. International tourism in Puglia increased by 56% from 2007 to 2014.

Image courtesy of TripSavvy

We conducted an extensive location study and deep dive into researching luxury accommodations in the area. We did this with Jan Hazelton, who is our head of development. Jan has extensive experience in hotel investments and was previously Vice President of Development in Europe for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. While the region has a strong demand for 4-5 star hotels, there has been a lack of true ‘boutique’ hotels, until now!

The three most popular locations on our shortlist were Spain, Italy and South Africa, with Portugal, United Kingdom, California, Iceland and the Alps also making it onto the list.

Q: how did you go about deciding which crowdsourcing & crowdfunding platforms to use? I think you’re currently raising €15,000 on Indiegogo and 6,000,000 on The Angel Investment Network? Which other platforms have you considered?

A: Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are at the heart of the Amberlair concept. With the current equity crowdfunding campaigns on Fundable and Angel Investment Network, we are looking to raise approximately about 6 Million Euros, along with 15,000 Euros through reward based crowdfunding on Indiegogo https://igg.me/at/amberlair. There are a lot of platforms out there and we spent a long time researching the right one for our particular project. We chose these because they gave us the best distribution to potential supporters and backers, and had the most compatible infrastructure to host our campaigns.

Q: the €15,000 you’re currently raising on Indiegogo is obviously a small amount in terms of your overall funding requirements for the Puglia property. What will you use the €15,000 for, and is this as much about finding more brand ambassadors at this stage, as it is about the cash flow? 

A: The funds raised through Indiegogo will finance the architectural plans required to turn the historic villa we have found in Puglia into the perfect boutique hotel. Additionally, we have an incredibly passionate boutique hotel lover community and we hope we will attract more through our crowdfunding campaign, which will highlight our revolutionary approach to hotel development. Added to this, our equity crowdfunding offering is a very attractive investment, with the possibility to own a share of the business and asset for as little as 2,500 Euros. Investors will receive a share of the real estate asset, along with an eventual IRR of between 30-35%.

Equity crowdfunding links:

Q: I think it’s a really exciting concept to have the crowd give opinions on everything from the brand to food to room decor, but how do you anticipate this ‘democratisation’ will work in practice? How will you manage the different views of so many investors, and will you have the final say? And will you have a traditional Board structure to execute operational decisions?

A: Amberlair supporters can be involved throughout the process in order to help us create their perfect boutique hotel. Backers will be able to participate, interact, influence, back, fund or simply lay back and watch it all happen!

Our community can always suggest ideas and give  their opinions and we will try to turn as many of those ideas as possible into a reality, as long as it reflects and respects the overall history and style of the property and locale. At certain key stages of the project, we will canvas ideas and put the top suggestions out for a vote, for example, what shall we do with the large birdhouse on the estate, what shape of pool do they want, etc.?

We don’t have a board of directors, but we (Kristin and Marcus) will have the final say, along with our management team of hotel experts.

Q: In your financials, you anticipate a total of €18.8m from EU subsidies. What is the process to apply for these grants, and what contingency plans are in place for alternative funding in the event that the subsidies aren’t received, either in part or in full?

A. There are several criteria we need to meet in order to apply for the EU subsidies. Italy is not the easiest country to develop in, but we have a strong team of local architects and designers on board who have helped us to ensure that our proposed works conform to all building regulations in the local area.

We will go through the process of applying for permits from the local authorities once we have raised the funds to acquire the property, but do not anticipate there being any issues with this. We have done a feasibility study to anticipate any challenges along the way, from securing the right licences and change of use permits, to finding the right building contractor to deliver the project on time.

We are positive that we have allowed for all the possible outcomes, but guess that dealing with unexpected challenges all part of the fun of developing a hotel!

Q: I love your concept of building the audience before building the property. Do you know of comparable business models in any other sector, do you think, or do you believe your approach for Amberlair is truly innovative, in the hospitality sector at least? 

A. We haven’t come across any other projects like ours, where the community and future guests are involved in creating their perfect boutique hotel from scratch, being involved from day one in decisions like choosing our name, voting on our first location, making decisions about converting the property we have found into a hotel.

A few years ago, Marriott ran a small online digital survey asking guests to vote on three different mock-up room designs, which is the only other crowdsourcing we have seen in the hospitality sector. In 2015 Amberlair was included in World Travel Market’s annual Global Trends Report as leading the way in crowdsourced boutique hotels.

Q:  have you already begun to think about likely destinations and funding mechanisms for property #2 and property #3? How will you ensure there’s enough operational focus on the Puglia property #1, whilst also strategically planning for Amberlair’s longer term future?  

A: We owe it to our backers and supporters to get the first Amberlair property right, and that is our focus for now, but we are always looking for new growth opportunities.

Our longer-term plan is to open up to 50 hotels globally in the next 20 years. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are at the heart of the Amberlair concept, so we will continue to develop the company along those lines for future projects.

Thanks to Kristin & Marcus for such detailed and thoughtful answers. I wish them well with Amberlair and hope that I can get to meet them soon, and visit Puglia to see the site of the first Amberlair boutique hotel.

Olympiada – Loulou’s story

My entry for The Telegraph’s Just Back weekly travel writing competition:


Loulou carried plate after plate out to the sunny terrace. Kiwi fruit, yoghurt, feta cheese – drizzled with oil and specked with oregano gathered on Aristotle’s mountain. Tomatoes from the small garden, fat olives, pale green peppers. And freshly baked bougatsa, a traditional Greek breakfast pastry, dusted with sugar.

And then the main dish – a round terracotta ramekin with steaming baked eggs, tomato, peppers and pastourma, air-dried meat rooted in Ottoman history.

Her husband quietly dug the vegetable patch as we ate, joking that despite his retirement, he remained as busy as ever, restoring every room of the Liotopi himself.

The family own two hotels and a beachside restaurant in Olympiada, a small village built around an arc of sand, where the Strimonikos Gulf of the Aegean sea kisses the shore on the knuckle of the third finger of the Halkidiki peninsula.

Olympiada is named after the mother of Alexander the Great. The partly excavated ancient city of Stageira stands above the village, high on a rocky promontory to the south and en route to the monastic haven of Mount Athos, at the fingertip of the peninsula. Stageira is the birthplace of Aristotle, Greece’s most favoured philosopher and tutor to warrior Alexander.

But Olympiada wasn’t always so alluring.

The Alexiadou family were expelled from their Asia Minor home in 1922, escaping from Smyrna along with thousands of other Orthodox Greeks, to avoid a brutal death at the hands of marauding Turks. At the same time, long-settled Muslims left Greek Macedonia to cross the Aegean in the opposite direction.

After breakfast, we strolled along the road to Loulou’s other hotel. Here, she posed proudly underneath a grainy black and white photograph of her grandparents. When the Alexiadous arrived in Olympiada in the early 1920s, it was a desolate, marshy place. Many of their friends and fellow refugees died from malaria, others fled to Thrace or safer places in Macedonia. Access to the village was by boat only, the first road not arriving until the 1960s, winding down to the village through densely wooded hills.

But Loulou’s grandparents stayed, carving out a new life through hard work and a desire to grow fresh, enduring roots. The refugee family’s mantra was passed down through the generations: always care more for people than for money. And every moment you spend at the Liotopi, you feel confident that sentiment will endure for another century.   

We had been given fruit liqueurs and delicate homemade cakes as soon as we had climbed the wide, steep steps to the hotel’s entrance hall. And, arriving back in our room late that night, a mince pie-like fresh pastry rested on a small tray on the bed, against which lay a hand-written card and the message:

Good night – with love – Loulou, Tina, Anastasia



A review of The Croydon Park Hotel

Below is a commissioned review of The Croydon Park Hotel I have just had published on Silver Travel Advisor, a travel website for people of a certain age…..

(Croydon may not be the most glamorous travel destination, granted…..but they’re sending me to Greece next, so watch this space for a review of Thessaloniki and northern Greece, in April).

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Let’s be honest, Croydon might not be the first place you think of staying in. But perhaps I can make you reconsider those preconceptions.

Croydon Park HotelI’ve just spent a night as a guest of the 4* Croydon Park Hotel, located perfectly for easy access by train to central London (less than 20 minutes to Victoria or London Bridge), and to Gatwick Airport (journey time 15-20 minutes, trains every 15 minutes during peak times).

The hotel is very welcoming, and all the staff members exude a friendly, professional image from the moment you arrive.

Our 4th floor room – recently refurbished in calming, neutral colours – was spacious and comfortable, with a sofa and table as well as a King-sized bed, flat-screen TV and every other amenity expected these days. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel.

Croydon Park Hotel

 

 

 

Before dinner, work up  an appetite in the gym  or in the 35-foot long  indoor pool, or heat up  in the jacuzzi or sauna.  The H2O Leisure Club is  free to hotel guests, and also has external local members.

Head to Whistlers Bar for a drink in a warm atmosphere, either before dinner in Oscars Brasserie or for a lighter supper while you watch a sports game on the huge screens.

But the main culinary event happens every day and evening at Oscars: feast on an all-you-can-eat 5 course gourmet buffet, for a fixed price of £22.50 pp (£27.50 with a ½ bottle of decent wine).

Croydon Park HotelStart with fresh soup, or a seafood medley of salmon, lobster, prawns and mussels, together with a wide option of salads. Move on to the freshly carved meat du jour, with chicken, fish and other meats already lined up on the groaning table, next to vegetables, rice, sauces and more trimmings than you’d see at a curtain exhibition. If you’re still going, choose one of the many sweets – the vanilla cheesecake is highly recommended – before filling up completely with cheeses, tea and coffee.

The breakfast buffet is no less impressive, whether you’re going Continental or traditional full English. But save some space for croissants and Danish pastries with your fresh coffee.

Croydon Park Hotel

If you’re staying local, visit the Horniman Museum & Gardens, like I did as a 6 year-old on school visits a lifetime ago. Sports fans will want to head to Twickenham Stadium for rugby, Crystal Palace for football andWimbledon for the annual tennis pilgrimage. The brilliant Tramlink is a painless 45 minutes from Croydon to Wimbledon.

Back in Croydon town centre, I have vivid memories of being dragged along to the newly opened Whitgift shopping centre in the late 1960s. It’s still there, but over the next few years a recently confirmedinvestment of £1bn will transform it into a vast Westfield retail centre, together with homes, offices, and leisure activities that will regenerate Croydon as the best place to live, shop and work in south London.

The Croydon Park Hotel is well positioned now, as a cost effective alternative to high priced London hotels just 20 minutes away, and it will only continue to benefit from the transformation of Croydon itself in the very near future.

Premier Inns – Purple Heaven…..or Purple Hell?

Just back from a road trip, photographing mortgaged properties in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex. Very glamorous. Think I prefer Bermuda.

It’s for my brother’s business, so I was governed by the company’s expenses guidelines: Where specifically agreed by a Director an overnight stay can be arranged at a Premier Inn or similar, and this should include a “meal deal” for dinner and breakfast.

And so it came to pass that I immersed myself in the purple world of Premier Inns for 3 nights……

First stop, Norwich.  5 – yes 5 – to choose from in and around that great city.  I opted for the Nelson City Centre one. Big mistake. Took me ages to find it. Never drive in Norwich unless you have to, the 1-way system is insanely confusing. £96.99 for the room, dinner & breakfast.

Next up, Ipswich. Another 5 locations. Went for the Quayside one, confronting another debilitating 1-way system – in rush hour. A whopping £104.99, for the room and meal deal. And £4 for the car park. Once you find it, hidden away down a road marked “closed”.

The final night was in Chelmsford. Just 3 choices this time, and I went for the Springfield one, rather than the city centre option. Another traffic meltdown in the late afternoon rush hour, gridlock on the A12 leading to the attractive service station area where the hotel is located, nestled between the BP garage and McDonald’s. A table-topping £108.99 for the room and meal deal.

So, what were my impressions of Premier Inn World…..

  • functional: what you see is what you get no-frills overnight stays. Luxury hospitality this ain’t
  • purple, purple, purple everywhere. Even on that purposeless long strip of fabric they lay at the end of the bed
  • meal deals. Not bad options for dinner, but the menu still echoes to the beat of Wimpy bars and Berni Inns from the 1970s. Breakfast is an all-you-can-eat buffet, or a few healthier options. But psychology kicks in if you’ve paid for it already….
  • the free wifi service was frustrating as hell. Free yes, but it took forever to get online….and then when you did, it often fell away just as you were about to send an email. There’s a paid alternative – £5 for 24 hours – for a service 8x faster than the free one. But 8x nothing is still nothing. Appalling in this digital era. Currently outsourced to Arqiva….I suggest they find another provider, pronto
  • the punters: lorry drivers, salesmen, refrigeration engineers, blue-collar workers in logo’d fleeces
  • the staff: well trained in smiley Premier-Inn- speak. Purple tongues
  • the rooms: boxes in boxed buildings, containing everything you need for 12 hours in your hospitality capsule in over-populated, traffic-clogged 21st century England
  • the beds: the undoubted highlight. Hypnos. With pillows as soft, fluffy and deep as Lenny Henry’s mellifluous voice, extolling the virtues of a night in Purple Heaven

Whitbread own Premier Inn.

AMBITIOUS GROWTH

With over 700 hotels in the UK and 59,000 rooms in great locations, you’ll never be far from a Premier Inn and we’ve set an ambition to have 85,000 rooms by 2020. Internationally, we have five hotels in the Middle East and three in India, with further developments in the pipeline and a target for 50 international hotels by 2018.

I can’t wait.

 

Tasmania – Hobart

Friday, February 13 to Monday, February 16

Well, it sure was nice to sleep in  a comfy and spacious hotel room in Hobart after 10 days – and nights – exploring Tasmania’s coasts and wildernesses in the confines of a camper van.

The Old Woolstore is an attractive conversion of an old industrial building, in a good city location, in much the same way as the amazing transformation of the old IXL Jam Factory by the dock is now the beautiful Henry Jones Art Hotel, and the old Gas Works is an atmospheric winery cellar door.

We enjoyed Hobart but were only there for 3 nights and, battery-recharging after a hyperactive tour of Tassie, opted to chill out rather than chase all the conventional sightseeing targets.

But we did spend Saturday morning at the renowned 300-stall Salamanca Market, loved wandering around the dock area seeing the crayfish pots unloaded, and on Sunday walked the 3-4 km out of the city on the Hobart Rivulet Path to be shocked out of our smug 21st century complacency visiting The Female Factory.

And we also explored the genteel Victorian suburb of Battery Point, where we succumbed – twice – to the irresistible delights of Jackman & McRoss, a bakery & deli that every neighbourhood should have. In fact, we should have talked to them about opening up a franchise in Godalming…..

But our overriding memories of Hobart will also be tinged with sadness, as it was a stepping off point for successive European explorers culminating in the British invasion of Van Diemen’s Land, our genocide of the indigenous Aborigines in the 1820s and subsequent colonisation of the island with transported convicts, horrifically abused until they had earned their free ticket.

Not to say that detracted in any way from our enjoyment of a naturally beautiful island and its relaxed capital city, but its history was rightly in our faces in the museum, in The Female Factory, in guide books and on illumination story boards around the dock area.

But Hobart and Tasmania are great 21st century holiday destinations, and I’m very pleased we included them on the Grand Slam Tour 2015.

Melbourne Park – The Aussie Open

Day 13 – Tuesday, January 27

Checked into our rather posh Melbourne hotel – The Langham – late morning, and I was as bouncy as a kangaroo on speed to be handed our welcome pack from Sportsnet by the liveried concierge.

I’d booked the tennis and hotel package almost a year ago, and wasn’t expecting much more than the tickets for the semi-final sessions on Thursday and Friday.

But in our sumptuous 19th floor room, overlooking the mighty Yarra river, we unearthed a quality rucksack each,  baseball caps, sunscreen, folding seats for those sensitive Pom bums, a poshly printed itinerary, our Myki visitor value pack for exploring the city….and a rather fetching leatherette man-bag containing the all-important tickets and dangly lanyard thingies.  Strewth mate, welcome to the Aussie Open.

I’d also joined the official AO body a while back, which gave us general access to the grounds and outside courts for 1 day….so we ambled in the direction of Melbourne Park, crossing the river and dodging energetic joggers and cyclists at the same time as dozens of rowing crews were put through their paces by megaphoned coaches on the other bank. Sporty bunch, these Aussies.

We enjoyed a cracking few hours introduction to the Open, watching some snippets of games on outside courts as well as on a couple of the show courts, seeing Sharapova The Grunter outclass young Ms Bouchard on the big screen as we munched through dodgy hot dogs, and then witnessed the sad demise of Rafa Nadal at the hands of Berdych, from the comfort of the Game, Set & Match suite, courtesy of the AO membership.

A good warm up for the day’s main event, young Aussie pretender Nick Kyrgios taking on our very own – well, Scotland’s – Andy Murray, being played out in the night session on the main Rod Laver Arena.

We ended up watching that start in the Crown Riverside area, cold tinnies in hand, and conclude back in the comfort of our hotel suite. Andy Murray played really well to squash the hopes of the young pretender – and the entire Australian nation – and we’re really excited that we’ll be at the Rod Laver Arena to see him play against Berdych for a place in the final. Andy, not Rod.